FR Doc 03-529
[Federal Register: January 10, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 7)]
[Page 1445-1448]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access []
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National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research

AGENCY: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, 
Department of Education.

ACTION: Notice of proposed priorities.


SUMMARY: The Assistant Secretary proposes funding priorities under the 
Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) program for up to 
nine Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers under the National 
Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) for Fiscal 
Years (FYs) 2003-2005. We take this action to focus research attention 
on areas of national need. We intend these priorities to improve the 
rehabilitation services and outcomes for individuals with disabilities.

DATES: We must receive your comments on or before February 10, 2003.

ADDRESSES: Address all comments about these proposed priorities to 
Donna Nangle, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW., 
room 3412, Switzer Building, Washington, DC 20202-2645. If you prefer 
to send your comments through the Internet, use the following address:

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Donna Nangle. Telephone: (202) 205-
    If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), you may 
call the TDD number at (202) 205-4475 or via the Internet:
    Individuals with disabilities may obtain this document in an 
alternative format (e.g., Braille, large print, audiotape, or computer 
diskette) on request to the contact person listed under FOR FURTHER 

    Invitation to Comment: We invite you to submit comments regarding 
these proposed priorities.
    We invite you to assist us in complying with the specific 
requirements of Executive Order 12866 and its overall requirement of 
reducing regulatory burden that might result from these proposed 
priorities. Please let us know of any further opportunities we should 
take to reduce potential costs or increase potential benefits while 
preserving the effective and efficient administration of the program.
    During and after the comment period, you may inspect all public 
comments about these priorities in Room 3412, Switzer Building, 330 C 
Street, SW., Washington, DC, between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., 
eastern time, Monday through Friday of each week except Federal 

Assistance to Individuals With Disabilities in Reviewing the Rulemaking 

    On request, we will supply an appropriate aid, such as a reader or 
print magnifier, to an individual with a disability who needs 
assistance to review the comments or other documents in the public 
rulemaking record for these proposed priorities. If you want to 
schedule an appointment for this type of aid, please contact the person 
    We will announce the final priorities in a notice in the Federal 
Register. We will determine the final priorities after considering 
responses to this notice and other information available to the 
Department. This notice does not preclude us from proposing or funding 
additional priorities, subject to meeting applicable rulemaking 

    Note: This notice does not solicit applications. In any year in 
which we choose to use these proposed priorities, we invite 
applications through a notice published in the Federal Register. 
When inviting applications we designate each priority as absolute, 
competitive preference, or invitational. The effect of each type of 
priority follows:

    Absolute priority: Under an absolute priority, we consider only 
applications that meet the priority (34 CFR 75.105(c)(3)).
    Competitive preference priority: Under a competitive preference 
priority, we give competitive preference to an application by either 
(1) awarding additional points, depending on how well or the extent to 
which the application meets the priority (34 CFR 75.105(c)(2)(i)); or 
(2) selecting an application that meets the competitive priority over 
an application of comparable merit that does not meet the competitive 
priority (34 CFR 75.105(c)(2)(ii)).
    Invitational priority: Under an invitational priority, we are 
particularly interested in applications that meet the invitational 
priority. However, we do not give an application that meets the 
priority a competitive or absolute preference over other applications 
(34 CFR 75.105(c)(1)).

    Note: The proposed priorities support President Bush's New 
Freedom Initiative (NFI). The NFI can be accessed on the Internet at 
the following site:

    The proposed priorities are also in concert with NIDRR's Long-Range 
Plan, which can be accessed on the Internet at the following site:

Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers Program

    We may make awards for up to 60 months through grants or 
cooperative agreements to public and private agencies and 
organizations, including institutions of higher education, Indian 
tribes, and tribal organizations, to conduct research, demonstration, 

[[Page 1446]]

training activities regarding rehabilitation technology in order to 
enhance opportunities for meeting the needs of, and addressing the 
barriers confronted by, individuals with disabilities in all aspects of 
their lives. Each RERC must be operated by or in collaboration with an 
institution of higher education or a nonprofit organization.

Description of Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers

    RERCs carry out research or demonstration activities by:
    (a) Developing and disseminating innovative methods of applying 
advanced technology, scientific achievement, and psychological and 
social knowledge to (1) solve rehabilitation problems and remove 
environmental barriers and (2) study and evaluate new or emerging 
technologies, products, or environments and their effectiveness and 
benefits; or
    (b) Demonstrating and disseminating (1) innovative models for the 
delivery of cost-effective rehabilitation technology services to rural 
and urban areas and (2) other scientific research to assist in meeting 
the employment and independent living needs of individuals with severe 
disabilities; or
    (c) Facilitating service delivery systems change through (1) the 
development, evaluation, and dissemination of consumer-responsive and 
individual and family-centered innovative models for the delivery to 
both rural and urban areas of innovative cost-effective rehabilitation 
technology services and (2) other scientific research to assist in 
meeting the employment and independence needs of individuals with 
severe disabilities.
    Each RERC must provide training opportunities, in conjunction with 
institutions of higher education and nonprofit organizations, to assist 
individuals, including individuals with disabilities, to become 
rehabilitation technology researchers and practitioners.

General RERC Requirements

    The following requirements apply to each RERC pursuant to these 
absolute priorities unless noted otherwise. An applicant's proposal to 
fulfill these requirements will be assessed using applicable selection 
criteria in the peer review process.
    Each RERC must have the capability to design, build, and test 
prototype devices and assist in the transfer of successful solutions to 
relevant production and service delivery settings. Each RERC must 
evaluate the efficacy and safety of its new products, instrumentation, 
or assistive devices.
    Each RERC must develop and implement in the first three months of 
the grant a plan that describes how the center will include, as 
appropriate, individuals with disabilities or their representatives in 
all phases of center activities including research, development, 
training, dissemination, and evaluation.
    Each RERC must develop and implement in the first year of the 
grant, in consultation with the NIDRR-funded National Center for the 
Dissemination of Disability Research (NCDDR), a plan to disseminate the 
RERC's research results to persons with disabilities, their 
representatives, disability organizations, service providers, 
professional journals, manufacturers, and other interested parties.
    Each RERC must develop and implement in the first year of the 
grant, in consultation with the NIDRR-funded RERC on Technology 
Transfer or other entities as appropriate, a plan for ensuring that all 
new and improved technologies developed by this RERC are successfully 
transferred to the marketplace.
    Each RERC must conduct a state-of-the-science conference on its 
respective area of research in the third year of the grant and publish 
a comprehensive report on the final outcomes of the conference in the 
fourth year of the grant.
    Each RERC will be expected to coordinate on research projects of 
mutual interest with relevant NIDRR-funded projects as identified 
through consultation with the NIDRR project officer.



    Technology plays a vital role in the lives of millions of disabled 
and older Americans. Advances in assistive technology and adoption of 
principles of universal design have significantly improved the quality 
of life for these individuals. Individuals with significant 
disabilities regularly use products developed as the result of 
rehabilitation and biomedical research to achieve and maintain maximum 
physical function, live independently, study and learn, and attain 
gainful employment. The range of engineering research has broadened to 
encompass not only assistive technology but also technology at the 
systems level (i.e., the built environment, information and 
communication technologies, transportation, etc.) and technology that 
interfaces between the individual and systems technology and is basic 
to community integration.
    The NIDRR RERC program has been a major force in the development of 
technology to enhance independent function for individuals with 
disabilities. The RERCs are recognized as national centers of 
excellence in their respective areas and collectively represent the 
largest federally supported program responsible for advancing 
rehabilitation engineering research. For example, the RERC program was 
an early pioneer in the development of augmentative communication and 
has been at the forefront of prosthetics and orthotics research for 
both children and adults. RERCs have played a major role in the 
development of voluntary standards that industry uses when developing 
wheelchairs, wheelchair restraint systems, information technologies, 
and the World Wide Web. The RERC on Low Vision and Blindness helped 
develop talking sign technologies that are currently being utilized in 
major cities in both the United States and Japan to help blind and 
visually impaired individuals navigate city streets and subways. RERCs 
have been a driving force in the development of universal design 
principles that can be applied to the built environment, information 
technology and telecommunications, transportation, and consumer 
products. RERC research activities also contributed to the clinical use 
of electromyography, gait analysis, and functional electrical 
    Advancements in basic biomedical science and technology have 
resulted in new opportunities to enhance further the lives of people 
with disabilities. Recent advances in biomaterials research, composite 
technologies, information and telecommunication technologies, 
nanotechnologies, micro electro mechanical systems (MEMS), sensor 
technologies, and the neurosciences provide a wealth of opportunities 
for individuals with disabilities and should be incorporated into 
research focused on disability and rehabilitation.
    NIDRR intends to fund up to nine new RERCs in FY 2003. Applicants 
must select one of the following priority topic areas: (a) Hearing 
enhancement; (b) prosthetics and orthotics; (c) communication 
enhancement; (d) measurement and monitoring of functional performance; 
(e) technology access for land mine survivors; (f) universal interface 
and information technologies; (g) telerehabilitation; (h) accessible 
public transportation; (i) wheeled mobility; (j) cognitive 
technologies; and (k) technology

[[Page 1447]]

transfer. Applicants are allowed to submit more than one proposal as 
long as each proposal addresses only one RERC topic area.

Letters of Intent

    Due to the open nature of this competition, NIDRR is requiring all 
potential applicants to submit a letter of intent (LOI). Each LOI must 
be limited to a maximum of four pages and must include the following 
information: (1) The title of the proposed RERC, the name of the host 
institution, the name of the Principal Investigator (PI), and the names 
of partner institutions and entities; (2) a brief statement of the 
vision, goals and objectives of the proposed RERC and a description of 
its research and development activities at a sufficient level of detail 
to allow potential peer reviewers to be selected; (3) a list of 
proposed RERC staff including the center Director and key personnel; 
and (4) a list of individuals whose selection as a peer reviewer might 
constitute a conflict of interest due to involvement in proposal 
development, selection as an advisory board member, co-PI 
relationships, etc.
    The signed, original LOI must be received by NIDRR no later than 
four weeks after the notice of final funding priorities for this 
competition is published in the Federal Register. Submission of a LOI 
is a prerequisite for eligibility to submit an application. With prior 
approval, an email or facsimile copy of a LOI will be accepted, but the 
signed original must be sent to: William Peterson, U.S. Department of 
Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW., room 3425, Switzer Building, 
Washington, DC 20202-2645. For further information regarding the LOI 
requirement, contact William Peterson at (202) 205-9192 or by email at:

Proposed Priorities

    The Assistant Secretary proposes to fund up to nine RERCs that will 
focus on innovative technological solutions, new knowledge, and 
concepts to promote the health, safety, independence, employment, 
active engagement in daily activities, and quality of life of persons 
with disabilities. Each RERC must:
    (1) Contribute substantially to the technical and scientific 
knowledge-base relevant to its respective subject area;
    (2) Research, develop, and evaluate innovative technologies, 
products, environments, performance guidelines, and monitoring and 
assessment tools as applicable to its respective subject area;
    (3) Identify, implement, and evaluate, in collaboration with the 
relevant industry, professional associations, and institutions of 
higher education, innovative approaches to expand research capacity in 
its respective field of study;
    (4) Monitor trends and evolving product concepts that represent and 
signify future directions for technologies in its respective area of 
research; and
    (5) Provide technical assistance to public and private 
organizations responsible for developing policies, guidelines, and 
standards that affect its respective area of research.
    (6) Each RERC must focus on one of the following priority topic 
    (a) Hearing Enhancement: This center must research and develop 
methods, systems, and technologies that will assist hearing 
professionals with the process of matching hearing technology to 
individuals with hearing loss and associated conditions such as 
tinnitus. This includes improving the compatibility of hearing 
enhancement technologies with various environments such as school, 
work, recreation, and social settings;
    (b) Prosthetics and Orthotics: This center must increase 
understanding of the scientific and engineering principles pertaining 
to human locomotion, reaching, grasping, and manipulation, and 
incorporate those principles into the design and fitting of prosthetic 
and orthotic devices;
    (c) Communication Enhancement: This center must research and 
develop augmentative and alternative communication technologies and 
strategies that will enhance the communicative capacity of individuals 
of all ages with significant communication disorders across 
environments (i.e., education, employment, recreation, social);
    (d) Measurement and Monitoring of Functional Performance: This 
center must research and develop technologies and methods that 
effectively assess the outcomes of rehabilitation therapies by 
combining measurements of physiological performance with measures of 
functional performance;
    (e) Technology Access for Land Mine Survivors: This center must 
address the unique rehabilitation needs of land mine survivors of all 
ages and develop low-cost replacement limbs, orthotics, and assistive 
technologies using indigenous materials and expertise from respective 
countries that will benefit the quality of life for individuals who 
have been severely injured due to land mine explosions;
    (f) Universal Interface and Information Technologies: This center 
must research and develop innovative technological solutions for, and 
promote universal access to, current and emerging information 
technologies and technology interfaces that promote a seamless 
integration of the multiple technologies used by individuals with 
disabilities in the home, the community, and the workplace. This center 
must work collaboratively with the RERC on Telecommunication Access, 
the RERC on Mobile Wireless Technologies, and the NIDRR-funded 
Information Technology Technical Assistance and Training Center;
    (g) Telerehabilitation: This center must research and develop 
methods, systems, and technologies that support remote delivery of 
rehabilitation and home health care services for individuals who have 
limited local access to comprehensive medical and rehabilitation 
outpatient services;
    (h) Accessible Public Transportation: This center must research and 
develop methods, systems, and devices that will promote and enhance the 
ability of people with disabilities to safely, comfortably, and 
efficiently identify destination information, embark/disembark, and use 
restroom facilities on various types of public transportation systems 
such as passenger trains and airplanes;
    (i) Wheeled Mobility: This center must research and develop 
innovative technologies and strategies that will improve the current 
state of the science, design standards, and usability of wheeled 
mobility devices and wheelchair seating systems;
    (j) Cognitive Technologies: This center must research, develop, and 
evaluate innovative technologies and approaches that will have a 
positive impact on the way in which individuals with significant 
cognitive disabilities function independently within their communities 
and workplace; and
    (k) Technology Transfer: This center must research and develop 
innovative ways to facilitate and improve the process of moving new, 
useful, and more effective assistive technology inventions and 
applications from the prototype phase to the marketplace. This center 
will be expected to provide technical assistance to all RERCs on issues 
pertaining to technology transfer, including the development of long-
range technology transfer plans.
    Applicable Program Regulations: 34 CFR part 350.

Electronic Access to This Document

    You may view this document, as well as all other Department of 
Education documents published in the Federal Register, in text or Adobe 
Portable Document Format (PDF) on the Internet

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(Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Number: 84.133E, 
Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center Program)

    Program Authority: 29 U.S.C. 762(g) and 764(b)(3).

    Dated: January 6, 2003.
Robert H. Pasternack,
Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.
[FR Doc. 03-529 Filed 1-9-03; 8:45 am]